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Gunmen Kill One, Wound Four at Protest Rally in Caracas - 2004-08-16


Tensions remain high in Venezuela after Sunday's recall referendum in which President Hugo Chavez claimed victory. An opposition rally to protest the outcome was disrupted by gunfire Monday, leaving one person dead and four wounded.

Witnesses say gunmen riding motorcycles fired into the protest rally. However, in an televised speech shortly after the incident, President Chavez said there is no proof any of his supporters perpetrated the violence. He said he has ordered an immediate investigation of the shooting.

The opposition protesters had gathered in the plaza in the Altamira section of Caracas to condemn the results of the recall referendum, which they call fraudulent. Opposition leaders plan to present evidence of irregularities in a meeting with international observers, including representatives of the Organization of American States, or OAS, on Tuesday. Observers from the OAS and the U.S.-based Carter Center followed the entire process Sunday and into the early morning hours Monday. OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria says he is confident in the results announced by the Venezuelan Electoral Council.

He says the observers did not find any evidence of fraud, nor has anyone presented them with specific allegations of fraud.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who headed the delegation of the Atlanta-based center that bears his name, says close observation of the vote counting in the early morning hours provided proof that the process was carried out properly.

"We were in the totalization room [central vote counting chamber] with all five directors at the time that the figures were derived from the machines," he said. "As has been the case with our evaluation of elections in many countries, the Organization of American States and the Carter Center cooperated on a quick count. This was done at the actual voting places and we have found that our information from that quick count was almost exactly the same as the results obtained from the consejo (the Electoral Council.)"

Mr. Carter and Mr. Gaviria say there are still discrepancies between the joint OAS-Carter Center quick count, the count produced by the opposition organization called Sumate and the official results. However, they say these differences of a few points one way or the other are not enough to change the outcome.

Mr. Gaviria called on all elements of Venezuelan society to overcome differences through peaceful dialogue.

But various opposition leaders continue to call for protests, claiming that President Chavez stole the election.

An opposition web site on Monday provided results based on exit polls showing 59 percent in favor of removing President Chavez and 41 percent in favor of his remaining in power. The official results were almost exactly the opposite.

In Washington, State Department spokesmen say the United States is withholding judgment on the contested results of the recall referendum and that allegations of fraud by Chavez opponents should be fully investigated.

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